Verizon, BellSouth start bundling phone, wireless and DSL


Wednesday, August 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) _ After years of paying separately for telephone, wireless and Internet service, even when dealing with a single company, consumers are finally getting the chance to replace those multiple accounts with a single bill.

The shift toward ``bundling,'' an industry buzzword since Congress deregulated the telecommunications industry in 1996, is getting a jump-start from some of the nation's big local telephone monopolies.

Verizon Communications announced Tuesday that customers in New York and Massachusetts can now buy a package of local calling, long-distance, cellular and high-speed Web access for between $135 and $145 per month, or about 30 percent less than what the company charges for those services separately.

Last week, BellSouth introduced a bundle of local, long distance, cellular and dial-up Web access for Georgia and Louisiana residents at a discount of 12 percent on the combined regular prices. An upgrade to faster DSL service is available.

And in May, SBC Communications, which prefers the `a la carte' approach to pre-set bundles, began offering all those services, as well as satellite TV, on a single bill in five states: Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.

These initiatives contrast sharply with the controversial decision by AT&T Corp. to get rid of its wireless and cable TV businesses, the company's top executives insisting that the presumed appeal of bundled services is fictitious.

Many analysts, however, see tremendous appeal in bundling.

``We've been conditioned against our will to buy separate services from separate companies and pay for them all with separate checks each month,'' said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. ``I think the concept of one company, one bill, one check will be very attractive to confused and time-crunched consumers.''

While many of the nations phone and cable TV companies were already offering various combinations of calling plans and Internet access, a full mix of services has been elusive due to regulatory, technological and financial obstacles.

On the simplest level, some companies like AT&T and MCI WorldCom don't own a wireless business or a local residential telephone network.

Others that do own wireless and local networks _ like Verizon, BellSouth, SBC and fellow Baby Bell Qwest Communications _ have only recently won government permission to sell long-distance in certain states.

In particular, Verizon's new package also demonstrates how an industry move toward bundling may finally blur the distinction between local and long-distance calling.

The Verizon plan, slated to be rolled out in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in September, includes unlimited local and regional calls around the clock as well as unlimited long distance and wireless calling at night and on weekends.

As a result, although there are some limits on peak-time usage _ 300 minutes for long distance and 300 minutes for mobile phones _ there would be none of the usual financial incentives to use one rather than another type of telephone service during off-peak hours.

``Consumers no longer have to choose between making a call on their wireless phone or their wired phone,'' Maura Breen, Verizon's chief marketing officer, said during a conference call. ``With identical calling plans for both wireless and wireline calls, consumers can choose the most convenient way to call, instead of according to the cost.''